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2nd Unit : First Study Group Session

2nd Unit : First Study Group Session

Bai Juyi(白居易) ’s Poetry of Hsi-t'i-shih(戯題詩:comic poems)

2nd Unit : First Study Group Session 2nd Unit : First Study Group Session

In the first study group session for the second unit, held on Monday, July 25, 2011 , Tahoko Sakai presented her study entitled “BaiJuyi(白居易)’s Poetry of Hsi-t'i-shih(戯題詩:comic poems).”

Bai Juyi(白居易) is a Chinese poet of the Tang(唐) Dynasty. He is commonly known as Bai Letian (白楽天), and he left more than 2,800 poems, of which 78 are categorized as Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩), a type of poetry that is explicitly marked as “His(戯:jest)” in the title or notes by Bai Juyi himself. Most of Bai Juyi’s Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩) fall into the class of miscellaneous poetry. However, as it was then commonly believed that respectful poems were ones created with a struggle, Bai Juyi attached little importance to miscellaneous poetry—which could be composed without much effort—until the age of 44. Since then, he created more Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩). His Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩), previously ignored as miscellaneous poetry, probably increased because his sentiment was changed by the death of his mother and infant daughter one after the other, when he was around 40 years old.

Bai Juyi’s Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩) can be broadly divided into two categories in terms its content. One is poetry about playing with other persons (his friends), most of which are spring poems that depict parties, often expressing a situation where he is at a party enjoying the springtime scenery. Many of them were recited by turns with his friends. These Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩) often contain words such as “xing(興:fun),” “pi(癖:attachment) ” and “kuang(狂:crazy).” Whereas the word “kuang(狂)” also appears in the Confucian Analects(論語) and Zhuangzi(荘子), few people had described themselves as “kuang(狂)” before the time of Bai Juyi. This “kuang(狂)” does not come from self-deprecation, but rather from pride in being totally different from ordinary people. It is known that Bai Juyi used this word more than 100 times in his poetry.

Some poems about subjects other than people are also included in the Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩). He played with a rose in the poem For a Rose Newly Planted for Fun (A.D. 807, at 36 years old), and with an Indian azalea in the poem Talking to an Indian Azalea for Fun (A.D. 817, at 46 years old). In a series composed in Luoyang(洛陽) (A.D. 834, at 63 years old), he personified a tree garden and even exchanged poems with it. This suggests that when he had no partner with whom he would recite by turns, he recites a poem with a personified object in front of him, playing the roles of both himself and his partner at the same time. In Three Quatrains Jueju Played by Myself (A.D. 840, at 69 years old), he separated himself into the body and the mind in order to exchange poetry with himself, as he had no partner with whom to do so. In Eight Jueju of a Crane in a Pond, with an Introduction created in his later years (A.D. 842, at 71 years old), he had a crane and other birds carry on a dialogue. Here, the crane is splitting hairs to clearly distinguish itself from other birds, and Bai Juyi projected himself onto this crane. As a whole, he seems to have begun creating poetry about himself instead of objects. In other words, Bai Juyi’s poetry was shifting from “chanting object poems” to “chanting myself poems.”

Questions were asked from the floor from various points of view, which deepened our understanding of Bai Juyi’s thought and religious belief and his Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩). When it comes to Bai Juyi’s thought and religious belief, Confucianism, the philosophy of Laozi(老子) and Zhuangzi(荘子), and Buddhism are all blended within him. Although he became more devoted to Laozi(老子)/Zhuangzi(荘子) and subsequently to Buddhism, Confucian elements never totally disappeared. In terms of timing, the period of his relocation to a remote location overlapped with the time of his devotion to Buddhism. This fact might be somewhat related to the increase in Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩). As for Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩), its prerequisites may include being a modern-style poem, because of the word “his(戯:jest)” in the title or self-notes, and since it is an improvised poem. However, these are not absolute requirements. Although the concept of “xing(興)” in the author’s time is extremely hard for us living today to understand, Hsi-t’i-shih(戯題詩) seem to be poems that are unserious to some extent.

With regard to research methodology, a member asked a question about the progress of database creation. Beijing University’s website has Quantangshi (全唐詩), or the Complete Tang Poems, which contain all poetry of the Tang Dynasty, including Bai Juyi’s. The time of the Tang(唐) Dynasty was still a period of manuscript, and Quantangshi (全唐詩) was edited according to the Emperor’s order in the period of the Qing Dynasty. The database stores this entire collection, allowing us to examine the difference between various texts. It was also confirmed that a database on the web has been available for studies on Bai Juyi.